Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Larger-Than-Life Facts About Texas

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

The Lone Star State boasts some the best barbeque and biggest farmlands and ranches in the United States. Since the 19th century, it has been home to presidents, movie stars, musicians, folk heroes, and famed outlaws. Here are 25 facts from deep in the heart of Texas. 

1. Texas is the second largest state [PDF]. With an area of 268,602 square miles, it's bordered by four other states, and by Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico in the South. Alaska, meanwhile, is the largest, at 663,000 square miles.

2. The word “Texas” comes from teysha, which means “friends” or “allies” in the language of the natives of East Texas. The word was used by several tribes, including the Hasinais and Caddo, before the arrival of the Spanish, and was sometimes used as a greeting. 

3. The so-called Lone Star State gets its nickname from the state flag. The lone star first appeared on the Republic of Texas’s flag in 1838. 

istock

4. The state capital was almost named Waterloo. When a commission surveyed the land in 1838, they named the territory after the famed battle. But the Republic of Texas’s congress ended up renaming the city Austin to honor founding father Stephen F. Austin. 

5. 7-Eleven got its start in Dallas in 1927 when a Southland Ice Company employee started selling eggs, milk, and bread out of one of Dallas’s ice houses. Southland founding director Joe C. Thompson Sr. saw the potential in the idea, and the chain of ice houses quickly morphed into a chain of convenience stores, initially called “Tote’m Stores,” and later renamed 7-Eleven

6. Infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde are buried in different graveyards in Dallas. Their crime spree was immortalized in Arthur Penn’s Oscar-winning film Bonnie and Clyde, which shot some scenes in Dallas. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

7. Over the years, Texas has flown the flags of six different nations: Spain, Mexico, France, The Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States.

8. The amusement park chain Six Flags was founded in Arlington in 1961, and is named for the six flags of Texas. It was originally called Six Flags Over Texas. 

9. There may be some truth to the saying "Everything's bigger in Texas." Texas is home to the world's largest Honky Tonk (where Merle Haggard once purchased the world's largest round of drinks), votive candle, giant pilgrim head, and, of course, the world's largest Texan.

Brandi Korti, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

10. March 27, 1984, may have been the strangest weather day in Texas history. In Amarillo, the temperature was a near-freezing 35 degrees with snow on the ground, while Brownsville hit a high of 106 degrees. 

11. Bracken Cave in San Antonio is home to the world’s largest bat colony. From March through September each year, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats inhabit the cave and 1458 acres of the surrounding Texas Hill Country.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

12. The 1836 Battle of The Alamo, during which hundreds of Texan defenders were killed (including folk hero Davy Crockett), was one of the most important battles of the Texas Revolution, convincing others to join the Texas army, and inspiring the battle cry “Remember the Alamo.” The battle later became the subject of songs, books, and films—and today, the Alamo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Texas.

13. Electronics company Texas Instruments was founded in Dallas in 1951. Probably best known for consumer electronics like calculators, the company is one of the top 20 semiconductor producers in the world. The movie True Stories (1986), set in the fictional Virgil, Texas, and directed by David Byrne of the band Talking Heads, is loosely inspired by the tech empire established by Texas Instruments.

14. Aurora, Texas, is home to a rumored alien gravesite. Some locals believe that in the 1800s, a UFO crashed in the area, and locals buried the “petite” Martian under a tree in a nearby cemetery. 

15. Sometimes called “the birthplace of Texas ranching,” the 825,000-acre King Ranch in South Texas covers more land than the entire state of Rhode Island. Established in 1853, the ranch encompasses operations as diverse as farming, cattle ranching, tourism, and even publishing. 

16. Paris, Texas, has its own 65-foot-tall Eiffel Tower. Built in 1995, it was originally billed as the “Second Largest Eiffel Tower in the Second Largest Paris.” In the years since then, fake Eiffel Tower construction in the U.S. has bumped the Texas tower down to fourth place. Still, it’s probably the only imitation Eiffel Tower in the world that sports a jaunty red cowboy hat.

17. Frequently used as a statement of Texas pride, the expression “Don’t Mess With Texas” started out as an anti-littering slogan. The phrase, which appears on T-shirts and bumper stickers throughout the state, has been a federally registered trademark of the Texas Department of Transportation since 1985. 

18. Forget Mount Rushmore, Texas has its own giant stone head—a 13-ton boulder carved into the shape of John Wayne’s face. Unlike the presidential monument in South Dakota, the John Wayne Boulder in Lubbock, Texas, sits inside the library of Lubbock Christian University.

19. Over the years, musicians and songwriters have written numerous odes to the state of Texas. Glen Campbell wrote an ode to Galveston, George Strait sang of his exes in Texas, and Waylon Jennings had a number one Billboard hit with “Luckenbach, Texas” in 1977. But the state’s most well-known ode may have come from Hollywood cowboy and Texas native Gene Autry. In 1942, the singing cowboy appeared in the film Heart of the Rio Grande where he sang “Deep In The Heart of Texas.” Since then the iconic song has been referenced in everything from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure to The Big Bang Theory.

20. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson were college roommates at the University of Texas at Austin. The future director and the future movie star met their sophomore year and became fast friends. “I wrote a term paper for Owen,” Anderson told Texas Monthly in 1998. “Although that wasn’t exactly a collaborative effort.” The two went on to actually collaborate on Bottle Rocket (1996), Anderson’s first feature film, and have worked together numerous times since then.

21. The deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States occurred in Galveston on September 8, 1900, when a Category 4 hurricane hit the island city. Though residents knew a storm was coming, forecasters downplayed its severity and few evacuated, and an estimated 6000 people died. 

22. Drawing on the etymology of its name, the state motto of Texas is “Friendship.”

23. Black’s BBQ in Lockhart is the oldest family-owned BBQ restaurant in Texas. Owned and operated by the Black family since 1932, the restaurant is best known for its 80-year-old sausage recipe. Other beloved long-running Texas BBQ joints include Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, which opened in 1949 and is known for its beef brisket, and Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse in Elgin, which started as a sausage company in 1949. (PSA: You can order their sausages from anywhere in the United States).

Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

24. Texas was once an independent nation. Called the Republic of Texas, it was its own country from 1836 through 1845, when it agreed to be part of the United States. During that time, Sam Houston (for whom Houston, Texas, is named) was elected president twice, in 1836 and 1841. 

25. Lyndon B. Johnson and Dwight D. Eisenhower were both born in Texas. (Though both held government positions in Texas, George Bush and George W. Bush were born in Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively.) The LBJ Presidential Library is located in Austin. 

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geography
Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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The Body
11 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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